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Binge, Stream And Skip: Fantasy Football Week 18 Viewer's Guide | TheSportsDay Binge, Stream And Skip: Fantasy Football Week 18 Viewer's Guide | TheSportsDay

Binge, Stream and Skip: Fantasy football Week 18 viewer's guide

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Game environment is the foundational starting point in making fantasy decisions. As such, I’m going to break down each game on the slate into three categories: Binge, Stream and Skip.

Games you want to “binge” are like the show you can’t miss; you’re watching as soon as it goes live and might just crush all the episodes in one weekend. These are the start-all-your-guys fantasy games and ones with season-defining storylines.

Games you want to “stream” are like the shows you certainly watch start to finish, but perhaps you’re finishing it over time instead of one shot. While these games might not feature a ton of “must-starts,” we can pick and choose our spots, and the teams are likely to matter in the NFL playoff picture.

Lastly, the games you want to “skip” are like the shows you’re leaning toward passing on, but you might catch an episode here and there (or might stick to reading recaps online to stay up with the culture). There will be a non-obvious player or two who stands out in these games, but overall, they aren’t the best environment for fantasy football.

Let’s dive into my Week 18 Fantasy Football Viewer’s Guide.

BINGE

HOUSTON TEXANS at INDIANAPOLIS COLTS

What matters: The stakes are massive in this game. It’s probably the most consequential both-sided affair of the weekend.

Simply put, if either team wins, they are in in the playoffs. They are out if they lose. Either of Houston or Indianapolis could win the AFC South if Jacksonville loses to the Titans the following day but they’re ticketed for a Wild Card spot regardless.

No matter the outcome of this game, both fanbases have to feel great about the trajectory of their operations. The Colts and Texans picked in the top five of the draft last year. Now, they both sit on the precipice of making a playoff run after nailing their head coaching hires. Indianapolis didn’t even get to play the vast majority of the season with its potentially transformative rookie quarterback. This Week 18 matchup is just the first of many enthralling outings between these two teams over the next three to five seasons.

Stat you need to know: Jonathan Taylor has handled 72% of the team carries but has just two targets in each of the last two weeks. With Zack Moss out of the mix, Taylor hasn’t ceded much work on the ground to Trey Sermon or other backups. We have yet to see him get much of a passing-down workload though, which could remain an issue for projecting his fantasy outlook in future seasons. With how many RPO looks the Colts run, Taylor will not get funneled many check-downs or designed backfield targets.

Player in a smash spot: Nico Collins. The third-year wideout returned to more of a full-time role in Week 17, running a team-high 23 routes on 34 C.J. Stroud dropbacks. Collins was targeted on 35% of those routes and owned a 35.4% air yard share. Now he faces a Colts secondary that perimeter receivers have overrun at different points this season.

BUFFALO BILLS at MIAMI DOLPHINS

What matters: Whoever wins this game will win the AFC East. If Miami loses, they are still locked into a playoff spot but will drop to the sixth seed and likely face a matchup against the Chiefs in the Wild Card Round.

Buffalo is not guaranteed a postseason trip if it lets this one slip. If Jacksonville beats Tennessee earlier on Sunday and Pittsburgh takes down Baltimore’s B-team on Saturday afternoon, the Bills would miss the playoff with a loss in Week 18. Since this game is a Sunday night affair, they will know what’s at stake at the time of kickoff.

Neither team is truly coming in at full strength. The Bills have fought, clawed and won ugly on their way back into playoff contention despite a mid-season swoon. However, they’ve come dangerously close to falling to a pair of inferior teams in the Chargers and Patriots the last two weeks. The Bills will need their best offensive effort.

Meanwhile, Miami’s surging defense took two major hits when Xavien Howard and Bradley Chubb went down last week. The news is worse for Chubb, who will miss the rest of the year. He’s their second high-end edge rusher to go on IR late in the season. That’s not to mention the maladies sported by Jaylen Waddle and Raheem Mostert, both of whom missed Week 17. Miami needs to get healthy where it can, and fast.

Stat you need to know:

There has been a ton of eyeballs and curiosity on this situation. To me, I don’t see an issue with Stefon Diggs the player — he’s separating on his routes and looks every bit the technical master we’ve come to know during his time in the league. However, he’s played fewer than 70% of the snaps in three straight games — that’s odd. Unless there is an unreported injury, there’s no reason not to have your No. 1 playmaker by a mile on the field at all times. Both head coach Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Joe Brady have said they know they’ll need him down the stretch. Well, we’ve arrived at that point.

The Dolphins have been filleted in the slot the last two weeks by CeeDee Lamb and a variety of players in Baltimore. The Bills have used Diggs in that way in big matchups to help him get away from double-teams. It’s time for Brady to introduce those wrinkles in his version of this offense.

Player in a smash spot: De’Von Achane. There continue to be some solid on/off splits surrounding Waddle’s absence and how that ties into Achane’s usage but of course, the rookie back was destined for a bump in usage last week with Mostert out. Either way, that sets us up for a big game from Achane against the Bills. His explosiveness in both phases was evident in Week 17’s loss to Baltimore and this defense of the Bills is more exploitable. They rank third in dropback EPA allowed since Week 10 but just 16th against the run.

JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS at TENNESSEE TITANS

What matters: A win for Jacksonville punches its ticket to the playoffs via the AFC South divisional crown and cements it as the fourth seed in the conference. A loss would send the division title to the winner of Texans at Colts. Jacksonville can still backdoor its way to the playoffs with a loss but it’s no lock. The Broncos and Steelers winning would end its season in Week 18, which would be a crushing blow and the cherry on top of a disappointing campaign.

The Titans are out of the playoff mix and will likely rush into a new era in the offseason with Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry set to hit free agency. That doesn’t mean Mike Vrabel will be any less motivated to win this game. In fact, based on his recent comments and general philosophy, you have to believe he’d love to deal a crushing blow to a division rival’s playoff odds:

Stat you need to know: Will Levis’ 5.66 adjusted net yards per attempt is over a full yard higher than Ryan Tannehill’s 4.31. The offense hasn’t always run in a completely smooth fashion under the rookie but there’s little doubt as to who is the better quarterback right now. Levis is dealing with a foot injury but did get in a limited practice on Thursday. The Titans have a better chance to pull off the upset with him under center.

Player in a smash spot: Calvin Ridley. The last time Calvin Ridley went up against these Titans he recorded 103 yards and scored a pair of touchdowns on seven catches. It was his best fantasy performance of the season and his third 100-yard day. Tennessee has allowed 2,153 yards and 171 catches to outside receivers; both marks lead the NFL. Ridley has all the incentive in the world to finish the season strong as he’s playing for, wildly enough due to that multi-year absence, his first long-term extension in the NFL.

CHICAGO BEARS at GREEN BAY PACKERS

What matters: This is a “win and in” game for the Packers. They can still make the playoffs even with a loss but will need to count on multiple teams losing, several of whom will also be playing in the same 4:25 pm ET window, to clinch a spot. The winning path is cleaner. It’s an eerily similar situation to what unfolded for the 2022 Packers: A “win and in” home game against a division rival who isn’t going to the playoffs but has played their best football to end the season.

On the other side, Chicago is eagerly awaiting to play spoiler in Green Bay.

The Bears defense has been a quietly strong group for months now but the offense has gotten hot since their Week 13 bye. The Bears have won three of four games since and Justin Fields has played stable ball. He’s made the discussions around the No. 1 overall pick, gifted to Chicago via Carolina, quite complicated. I’d bet general manager Ryan Poles has already made up his mind which path to go down but whether it’s in Chicago or a proving moment for his next team, Fields is playing for his NFL future in Week 18.

Stat you need to know: The Bears rank ninth in defensive success rate. The Bears defense has been good enough for long enough now you no longer have to do any “since (insert week here)” type of splits to show this is a quality unit. The Bears play Cover 2 on 21.5% of their defense plays, per Fantasy Points Data, as they really try to limit vertical shots and take away the middle of the field with their linebackers in coverage. This will be a spot where Jordan Love needs to be patient and take throws in underneath windows with timing and anticipation.

Player(s) in a smash spot: DJ Moore and Khalil Herbert. If the Packers make the postseason, they may just have the weakest defense among any contender. That should be demonstrated in Week 18. DJ Moore is in the middle of his best season and based on his social media activity is hot that he wasn’t rewarded with a Pro Bowl berth. In the running game, Khalil Herbert has been great to end the season with 38 combined carries and over 100 yards in back-to-back games.

STREAM

PITTSBURGH STEELERS at BALTIMORE RAVENS

What matters: A win in this game increases the Steelers playoff odds to 73%, per the New York Times playoff simulator. It doesn’t lock them into a spot. They need either the Jaguars or Bills to lose on Sunday in order to get the job done. For their part, Pittsburgh should have an easy ride in this matchup.

John Harbaugh and a variety of folks around the Ravens have said they don’t want a repeat of 2019 on their hands. Remember, Lamar Jackson was the MVP that year, the team was the No. 1 seed in the AFC but was bounced in their first game of the playoffs after resting starters in Week 18. Sound familiar? Despite their concerns, the Ravens will not tempt fate and are playing it safe while resting key players for this game.

Stat you need to know: Mason Rudolph has completed four of his eight throws of 20-plus yards in the last two weeks for 181 yards and a score. He’s simply a much more aggressive and superior deep passer compared to Kenny Pickett. That, along with a clear challenge from the coaching staff following some low-effort outings, has brought the best out of George Pickens.

Pickens has a 14.7 aDOT the last two weeks and an absurd 155 yards after the catch. Being a consistent vertical separator, ball-winner and after-catch option is what we’ve been dying to see out of Pickens. His putting it all together consistently for these last two weeks has overlapped with a quarterback willing to rifle the ball downfield.

TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS at CAROLINA PANTHERS

What matters: The Buccaneers win this game and they win the NFC South. Plain and simple. Losing puts their playoff futures in jeopardy.

Look, the Panthers are one of the worst operations in the NFL. Bryce Young had his first promising game in months amid a Week 16 win against the Packers only to turn in one of the worst performances of his season last week. It was so bad owner David Tepper was seen throwing a drink at a fan. The Bucs should be able to get the job done here.

Stat you need to know: Baker Mayfield ranks top-10 in touchdown rate and adjusted yards per attempt. There’s no doubt Mayfield has been one of the most efficient passers in the NFL this season. He’s been aggressive when pushing the ball downfield but has willingly taken check-downs to Rachaad White when he gets in trouble. That’s been an issue for Mayfield at other stops but White’s work as a receiver has incentivized the quarterback to take those check-downs. Low-key, this is one of the better-designed offenses in the NFL and that’s allowed Dave Canales to get the best out of journeymen quarterbacks for the second year in a row.

DALLAS COWBOYS at WASHINGTON COMMANDERS

What matters: The Cowboys will clinch the NFC East and the No. 2 seed with a win. A loss and an Eagles win locks them into the fifth seed.

There is no reason the Cowboys should struggle with a Commanders team limping to the finish line. There’s talk around Washington that some of the big-name veterans may not even play in this game, as the entire operation looks beyond this coaching staff and front office’s desire and deeper into the future. The team will go back to Sam Howell as the starter one last time. Jacoby Brissett missed his window to start after picking up a hamstring injury in practice last week.

Stat you need to know: CeeDee Lamb leads the NFL with 51 targets on slant and crossing routes this season, per Fantasy Points Data. He averages 5.4 yards per route run on these patterns, the most of any receiver with 30-plus targets.

There is not a better note to display how perfectly this scoring unit has transitioned to a full-blown West Coast offense. Mike McCarthy’s vision has been fully achieved. This has made Dak Prescott more efficient than ever and it’s allowed them to funnel targets to a guy who has every right to claim he’s the best wide receiver in football.

SEATTLE SEAHAWKS at ARIZONA CARDINALS

What matters: Seattle doesn’t have a clear path to the playoffs but it certainly needs to win this game, for starters. Elsewhere, just like last year, they’ll require a Packers loss to sneak into the seventh seed. Overall, this Seahawks team has been a disappointment this season. They can’t pass protect on third down offensively and the defense has completely collapsed to end the season (more on that in a bit). They are absolutely on upset watch in Week 18.

The Cardinals are only three-point home underdogs, per Bet MGM, which really says it all. This is a team that could be headed for a top-five pick and the Seahawks have a path to the playoffs. Yet, right now, the Cardinals are good enough to compete with this version of Seattle. The Cardinals coaching staff has been dead-set in their approach to backing Kyler Murray as the franchise quarterback all season.

While the results have been mixed at times, Week 17 was easily Murray’s best outing of the season. And that’s while working with a subpar group of pass-catchers beyond Trey McBride and rookie receiver Michael Wilson. The Eagles are of course an extremely beatable defense but the Seahawks’ stop unit doesn’t present much of a formidable foe, either.

Stat you need to know: The Seahawks allow the third-highest yards per pass attempt (8.3) and are dead last in rushing EPA allowed since Week 13. We talk plenty about the offense — there are some structural and pass protection issues on that side of the ball — but the defense is easily the biggest culprit for this Seahawks season being a letdown. Defense is Pete Carroll’s calling card so there need to be some difficult conversations about why certain veterans didn’t fit perfectly into the plan and why certain young players regressed across the board this season. For the time being, this defense has to finally step up to the plate. Murray and the fellas in Arizona showed they are not an opponent you can just overlook.

ATLANTA FALCONS at NEW ORLEANS

What matters: If the Buccaneers take care of business against the Carolina Panthers (that game will be on at the same time), this one means nothing for Falcons. Their only path to the postseason is to back into winning the NFC South. The Saints still have a shot at the Wild Card if they win this game, the Seahawks lose to the Cardinals and the Packers lose to the Bears. Neither is completely off the table and the Saints will not know the fate of those 4:25 pm ET games until well after their contest ends. So we can expect a full push from both squads to try to win this game.

To be honest, neither of these teams really pulls me. They’re two of the most disappointing offenses in the league. Failures at the play-calling spots and middling to poor quarterback play has dragged down solid skill-position talent on both sides. If I have to pick one team I feel better about right now, I’d give the edge to New Orleans. Derek Carr has at least played competent quarterback the last few weeks while the Falcons are yo-yo-ing back to Desmond Ridder again.

The Falcons have an easier chance at a fresh start and more young talent to build around in the offseason but purely from a head-to-head Week 18 perspective, the Saints have a bit more juice.

Stat you need to know: If the Falcons beat the Saints, the Patriots have a better chance at the No. 2 overall pick. The Commanders have a better shot in the inverse scenario, obviously pending the result of their respective games. You have to watch this clip with Steve Kornacki.

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES at NEW YORK GIANTS

What matters: The Eagles can win the NFC East and get the No. 2 seed if they win this game and the Cowboys lose to the Commanders. The way Nick Sirianni talked about still possibly resting players in Week 18, even though they need this win, makes it seem like they know the second part of that equation is a long shot.

The Eagles are 4.5-point road favorites in Week 18, per Bet MGM. So even with some starters possibly out, books are giving them a fighting chance. But don’t forget that this Giants team gave the Eagles a legitimate run for their money on Christmas day once Tyrod Taylor got in the game. It’s clear the Giants offense functions light years better and smoother with Taylor under center. The Eagles are limping into the postseason as it is and a loss to the Giants, even if it doesn’t move their seeding to a dramatic degree, would still add more hurt.

Stat you need to know: The Eagles are 13th in weighted DVOA, per FTN Fantasy. This metric gives more credence to recent results, not the season’s course. In that view, this sounds about right for the Eagles. The defense is a legitimate mess with underperforming players at all three levels and chaos in the coaching ranks. For a unit like that to make a postseason run, the offense has to be flawless. This scoring unit for the Eagles has been anything but to end the season. Maybe I’ll live to eat these words but the 2023 season just doesn’t feel like their year even if the long-term health of the team is fine.

MINNESOTA VIKINGS at DETROIT LIONS

What matters: The Lions are all but completely locked into the third seed in the NFC playoffs. They may still play their guys on the off chance they can move up one slot but they’d be wise to just play it safe and move on to the postseason. On Minnesota’s side, it can still make the playoffs but it’ll need a ton of help. The Vikings can make the playoffs with a win, a Packers loss to the Bears, a Seahawks loss to the Cardinals and a Saints loss or Buccaneers loss.

The New York Times simulator gives them a 3% chance to get in.

Stat you need to know: Justin Jefferson and Jordan Addison combined for 84.1% of the team’s air yards in Week 17. With T.J. Hockenson on IR and a dearth of needle-moving pass catchers at the other skill-position spots, Jefferson and Addison are set up to dominate targets. It looks like we will get Nick Mullens back under center, who is deeply flawed but will push the ball down the field. With these two getting funneled looks against a backup defense that isn’t great in the secondary even when fully operational, I’d explore some overs on their receiving prop lines.

SKIP

LOS ANGELES RAMS at SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS

One reason to maybe watch: Puka Nacua record watch. He’s within shouting distance of multiple rookie landmarks including the yardage record which has stood for over 60 years.

I’d love to see the Rams get him both marks and get him out of this game as soon as possible. Not that anyone asked me, but let’s not do so in ways that expose Nacua to a bunch of collisions, either. His play style and role already see him take a ton of punishment. Let’s just hit a few big overs against man coverage or out-breaking flat routes. That’s all we need to see from this game. This contest was going to be in “stream” until the other Rams’ starters outside were ruled out. Clearly, the Rams don’t care about the sixth vs. the seventh seed debate, so you sickos don’t need to care about Carson Wentz vs. Sam Darnold matchup either.

CLEVELAND BROWNS at CINCINNATI BENGALS

One reason to maybe watch: How the receivers in Cincinnati finish the season. Tee Higgins currently has fewer than 700 yards on the season. That is surely not how he was hoping his contract year would go. Injuries have hindered him all year long, including right now, as he nurses a hamstring malady. It remains to be seen if Higgins would even have any incentive to go at less than 100% to put another game’s worth of good film out as he heads into a free-agency bid or perhaps a tag-and-trade situation.

NEW YORK JETS at NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

One reason to maybe watch: How the young stars of the Jets finish the season. Jets’ ownership has already assured that this entire coaching and front office regime will be back.

I don’t know, but another showing like we got in Week 17, in a blowout loss to the Browns would scare me.

Not saying that anyone didn’t show effort in that game but you just can’t stomach such stagnation and fruitless endeavors much longer from this team. Maybe everyone in New York has just resigned themselves to nothing from the 2023 season mattering once Aaron Rodgers went down. To me, that’s dangerous thinking. Meanwhile, you know Bill Belichick would love to hand the hated Jets one last loss in what might be his final game as the Patriots head coach.

DENVER BRONCOS at LAS VEGAS RAIDERS

One reason to maybe watch: To see if Jarrett Stidham can create momentum into next season. It’s a foregone conclusion that Russell Wilson will not be back with this team next season. Stidham will be back on the final season of a two-year deal. Obviously, he’s not the future of this franchise but a solid finish in this game could at least allow him to enter training camp as the starter with perhaps a rookie seated behind him.

KANSAS CITY CHIEFS at LOS ANGELES CHARGERS

One reason to maybe watch: To see if Austin Ekeler can hit his yardage incentive prior to entering free agency.

There truly is not much else worth noting from this contest. I’ll at least check in to see if my podcast co-host gets some cash to walk away with at the end of this lost season.

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